Sarah Kalnajs on R+ training

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Postby pitbullmamaliz » May 9th, 2011, 9:03 pm ... 9045997946

A few words on Positive Reinforcement Training

By: Sarah Kalnajs CPDT-KA / CDBC

Recently I've heard from trainers referring to themselves as "balanced" that Positive Reinforcement trainers use no form of correction or punishment, think all "positive punishment" methods are "evil" and are only about flinging cookies.

This is not at all an accurate representation.

If you're looking for a dog trainer, and you're confused by all of the controversy, hopefully this short piece will help you.

Positive Reinforcement Trainers / Dog Friendly Dog Trainers / Clicker Trainers / Science Based Trainers -

Those are a few of the phrases commonly used to describe the group of trainers who promote dog training through the use of a thorough understanding of the science of learning theory. They use both classical and operant conditioning techniques to train dogs and while food is used in training, when done properly, reinforcement training is about just that - REINFORCEMENT, and not, as some would put forth BRIBERY.

Keep in mind that POSITIVE DOES NOT EQUAL PERMISSIVE (thanks Susan Garrett) and the trainers in this category DO IN FACT use punishers in training, including some positive punishers. The distinction is that their preference in training is whenever possible to use Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment (the removal of something the dog wants in order to decrease the frequency of a behavior) and when necessary use the tools of Positive Punishment (the addition of something unpleasant to the dog that will reduce the frequency of a behavior) and Negative Reinforcement.

Positive trainers fully understand that there must be consequences in learning but see no need for those consequences to be harsh physical punishers in order to have a wonderfully trained and well mannered family (or performance) pet. While they may sometimes opt to use Positive Punishment as a tool, their choice of punisher would be perhaps clapping their hands and making a noise or moving just a bit into the dog's space.

My personal rule is this: If you wouldn't do it to a pre-verbal child, then please don't do it to your dog. Why? Because your dog doesn't have the cognitive capability of understanding what you are doing any more than your pre-verbal child would understand that his drawing on the kitchen wall produced a sound spanking.

I am a crossover trainer. This means that many years ago (goodness how time flies), I used the metal collars, holding a dog on the ground, forcing them to "face their fears" etc.

Was I able to train dogs that way? Yes... BUT - The dogs didn't get excited about training and many became fearful of the collar, the leash, the car, dog class (the list goes on and on). You CAN train a dog through force and intimidation but mostly you are training them what NOT to do with a good dose of "be afraid of the person on the other end of the leash".

It is true that some dogs are much more sensitive to the use of the quite harsh physical methods than others, but the point I learned...the reason I switched training methods and did not look back?


In other words, if you can get a wonderfully trained and well behaved dog using positive reinforcement and negative punishment methods, why on earth would you want to use a technique that at best the dog wouldn't exactly love and at worst could create more problems than you started with?

Reinforcement trainers avoid the use of metal training collars, shock collars and physical manipulation methods (alpha rolls, scruff shakes and the like) that have been shown in an impressive quantity of scientific research and literature to have no merit in dog training. (See David Mech, take a glance through "Coercion and It's Fallout" by Murray Sidman or Google Scholar search - studies of the use of shock collars on dogs - to learn more about this).

To state it plainly, both experience and science have shown us that it is erroneous to think that by rolling a dog over on their back we are "showing them we are dominant" and they will then change their behavior. It simply isn't true.

There is a very large difference between an offered behavior and a FORCED behavior. One can not force an emotional state on another mammal by placing them in a physical position. Clients who come to my office having done this to their dog report the same things:



2. THEIR DOG BECAME VERY FRIGHTENED of them and shut down.

What didn't happen as a result? LEARNING

Is it possible that an experienced trainer using those methods might get different results than those clients arriving at my office in droves by nature of having better timing or knowing when to back off by having a good understanding of canine body language? Of course. But that's the point. If the tool you use to train has the capacity to do harm in the hands of the non-expert, then it should not ever be advocated for use by the non-expert!

People should NOT be able to walk into a pet store and walk out with a remote controlled shock collar to place on their dog's neck shocking the animal each time they "misbehave". Many times the damage of this type of, hmmm, I can't even call it INTERACTION then, is so severe that the dog must be euthanized. Also, we need to call it what it is. It is a collar that uses an electric shock as an aversive to the dog. It bothers me greatly that some put "gentler" names on these devices calling them "e sitm" or even "training collars". I've never had to disguise the term "liver treat" after all!

A final comment on the shock collar, anticipating the typical response by it's advocates, is the following...

"Well the dog is only shocked once or twice and then it's ONLY a beep".

Remember Pavlov's dog everyone? The dog that began salivating at the sound of the bell since it came to predict food? That is an example of classical conditioning and it is exactly what happens with the shock and the beep.

To Pavlov's dog, the bell BECAME the food in the dog's mind. The bell produced the same physiological reaction in the dog as the food. In the use of shock collars and shock fences, the BEEP becomes the SHOCK. The dog experiences the same physiological reaction to the beep as they did to the shock. They become one and the same and THAT IS WHY IT WORKS! (That is, until the dog is sufficiently motivated to break through to follow a deer or rabbit and then too fearful to return as they'd have to endure the shock to enter back in to their own yard.)

For those that say the shock isn't painful? Look, if it wasn't painful, it wouldn't work. Is it the most painful thing ever experienced? No. But how many of you would be willing to put it on a three year old and try it out? Enough said.

Am I biased towards this type of training? Absolutely! Proudly so! Am I passionate about this subject? Certainly! Do I hope that others will take time to learn about these issues and cross over as I did? I very much do.

At the same time, I believe firmly that everyone who works with dogs, LOVES DOGS. I don't think any trainer of any method is clasping their hands thinking...."hmmm, how can I hurt a dog next". All I'm saying now, all I've ever said is this:

If there is a way to train your dog JUST AS WELL IF NOT BETTER and without the risk of any fear, without physical discomfort and without the potential of fallout (such as the development of behavior problems from training)...


It bears repeating... if you can get a wonderfully trained and well behaved dog using positive reinforcement and negative punishment methods, why on earth would you want to use a technique that at best the dog wouldn't exactly love and at worst could create more problems than you started with?
"Remember - every time your dog gets somewhere on a tight leash *a fairy dies and it's all your fault.* Think of the fairies.""
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